I make two Niçoise salads. One for myself which doesn’t use up too many dishes. And another one, for guests. A show stopper. Where I treat all the ingredients right, dress a lot of them separately. Then layer and scatter the everything on a low plate so that they can really stand out against one another and arrest you visually.
This Niçoise relies on two principal things; good ingredients and prepping before everyone arrives. What you want to achieve is an outward and inward calmness and control; so that you can just nonchalantly drop, nudge, dollop your way into a salad, while being able to manage a conversation without suddenly saying “Oh No! My potatoes! Ach well, you guys don’t mind if it’s all a soggy mess!”
If all you’ve got in your cupboard are those abominable dyed black pit-free olives they sell at all the supermarkets here, then walk away from this recipe now! (Great article on dyed olives in the Independent here). Or just leave them out and definitely throw those nasty things out because there is no culinary use for them. You are looking for those fingernail size niçoise olives or kalamata olives (they are expensive but good so shell out).
Then this is what you do:
Cherry tomatoes on the vine: drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put in a low oven: 120 C and roast for 1 hour. Then turn off the oven and let it cool down with the tomatoes inside. They will look alarmingly shriveled but taste, sweeter than you could ever fathom.
Fennel: Halve and then slice through the core, as thin as you can go, retaining the core. Trim the core leaving just enough to keep the fennel slices together. Toss with olive oil and salt. Add to the roasting tomatoes half way through and allow to dry up with the tomatoes.
Green Beans: top (and tail if you want) and halve into bite sized pieces. Get a big pot of salted water to the boil. Throw the beans in, put the lid on to get back up to the boil. Boil from anywhere to 3 minutes to 10. Depending on what it takes for the beans to give a little. Take out and either put in a bowl of ice water (I never have enough ice myself) or put in a colander in the sink with cold water running over them. To store for the salad. Lay a Tupperware container with some paper towel. Put in the beans and cover with another paper towel. They will stay in the fridge like this happily for 12 hours.
Eggs: put room temperature eggs into simmering water, gently. (If they are cold from the fridge, they will crack). Lower the heat to a gentle simmer (a rolling boil makes the white tough) and cook for 6 minutes, the centers should still be soft and creamy. Cool down, peel, store between paper towel in Tupperware in the fridge.
Potatoes: I am at a total loss when it comes to potatoes here, no matter which kind I get “Festkochend” – Waxy or “Mehlig Kochend” – Floury, once I cook them, they just taste…odd. (Very good guide to potatoes in Germany here) So I usually flake out and go to Galleries Lafayette and pick up a bag there, which are waxy and creamy at the same time. Scrub them, boil them in salted water with their skin on. Peel while they are still warm, otherwise you will never get the skins of once they have been in the fridge. Leave them whole, store them in the fridge.
Dressing: Dijon mustard is what makes this salad pop! So use lot’s of it. Make double what your instinct is, with white wine vinegar and olive oil.
Bring it together. The look you are going for by the way is cool nonchalance, like all these vegetables happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to have an impromptu soiree. :
- First, take out all your prepped ingredients and let them hang out on the counter for about half an hour so you don’t have fridge cold, flavorless ingredients.
- Then begin by dressing the potatoes in a large bowl. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if it needs it. Arrange on a large plate or small ones if you are serving individually.
- Then, in the same big bowl, dress the green beans with the same mustard dressing. The reason I do it separately is so bits of potato don’t come off on the green beans and because they may need slightly different seasoning.
- Get the tuna into good-sized chunks, squirt with a bit of lemon, drizzle with oil and add some flaked sea salt for seasoning. Arrange on top of the beans.
- Quarter the eggs and arrange (I allocate one egg per person).
- Drape the dried tomatoes and fennel on.
- Add a handful of olives.
- Drizzle the whole thing with olive oil.